An employee who is affected by drugs or alcohol in the workplace presents a risk to themselves, other employees, customers and your business. Costs to the business can include increased sick leave, damage to property, injury and reputational damage. But what can you do about it?
An employer’s Occupational Health and Safety obligations are generally viewed as paramount when compared to an individual employee’s privacy concerns, at least where the employee is working in what is called ‘safety sensitive’ work (for example, using heavy machinery, working at heights or with flammable materials, driving or flying). Where disputes have arisen in Australia in the past over whether the employer should be able to undertake such testing on employees, industrial tribunals have upheld the employer’s right to do so where ‘safety sensitive’ work is involved.
An employer’s drug and alcohol policy has to be developed to meet the needs of its particular workplace and the type of work involved – there is no ‘one size fits all’. The drug and alcohol policy should also be openly communicated to employees. All employees should be given a copy of the policy and asked to sign an acknowledgment that they have read, understood and accepted the policy. It is equally important that the policy is actually followed on every occasion.